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UNC experts say students should get tested for STIs

Claire Farel, a UNC professor and the medical director of the UNC Infectious Diseases Clinic, said it is important for students to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, due to the high rates of diagnoses among young people.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tells us that people ages 15 to 24 are only about a quarter of the nation’s sexually active population, but they’re half of the new STI diagnoses that occur in the U.S. each year, and that’s about 10 million STI diagnoses within that age group,” Farel said.

Heidi Swygard, an associate professor of medicine, said how often a person should get tested for STIs depends on their behavior.

“It kind of depends on what the person is doing,” Swygard said. “At least annually is what the recommendation is for the younger population, but like I said, if anybody is doing something higher risk, they may need to test more frequently, possibly as frequently as every three months.”

Caress Roach, coordinator for health promotion initiatives at Student Wellness, said there are many reasons for people to get tested.

“There are many STI/STDs out there, some that are curable and some that are not, which can impact your life. Knowing one’s status is essential in remaining safe and in early detection of STI/STDs for treatment,” she said in an email. “Most people believe that they ‘will know’ if they have an STI/STD because of symptoms, which can be the case; however, many STI/STDs are asymptomatic.”

According to Student Wellness’ 2015 Needs Assessment for Sexual Health survey, 37 percent of a sample of about 500 UNC graduate and undergraduate students did not know STIs are commonly asymptomatic.

In addition to getting tested for STIs, Swygard said there is a treatment called HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis that can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.

“So pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, involves using a drug called Truvada — and this was a medication that I actually used to treat HIV-infected patients — but was approved in 2012 by the (Food and Drug Administration), based on several large-scale studies, to prevent HIV acquisition,” Swygard said. “I do think that for the right patient it makes a lot of sense to use, and it is available at student health.”

Farel said sexual health is more than just not having an STI.

“Sexual health is a state of mind,” she said. “It’s a state of physical well-being, but it also is a state of emotional, and mental and social well-being. So what sexual health means to me is that we as a society, and I think as a campus, is that we need to have a positive and respectful approach to sexuality.”

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